By David Hegg
Recently, I spent some time with friends who have recently moved out of California. Like so many others who are fleeing our fair land because they can, taking employment mobility and bags of money with them, this couple extolled the benefits of living elsewhere. They told us how much further their money goes, of course, but that wasn’t all. They were especially surprised how much nicer, kinder, cheerful and neighborly folks were in their new state.
But that doesn’t surprise us, does it? Where once you could count on others giving you ample space to merge onto the freeway now most act like they don’t see you coming up the onramp. And how about the drivers who play chicken with anyone brave enough to use a crosswalk?
And it’s not just our driving that demonstrates a radical devolution in common courtesy around here. We scream at the neighbors’ dogs, rail at slow drive-thru lines, take umbrage with our kids’ teachers and customer service agents of various kinds, and generally gripe every chance we get.
We’ve become an uptight, critical, easily annoyed and offended group of spoiled brats who insist the rest of the world must see us, our opinions and especially our convenience, as their most important priority. Face it, if we were in a second-grade class with a really good teacher, we’d all be missing recess!
Yes, I know, we could chalk it up to COVID-19, but hey folks! It’s been this way long enough that our true kind, generous and patient natures should have shown up, right?
OK, so I am overselling the case, exaggerating the problem, and generalizing the situation. But you’ve got to admit we’re just not as nice as we once were, as a neighborhood, as a people, as a country.
So, what’s the answer? I think it is simple and difficult at the same time. Simply put, we have buried the virtue of sacrifice under a garbage truck load of selfishness. We have stopped putting others’ needs and comfort ahead of our own any time it calls for personal inconvenience. As a pastor, I can put it in biblical terms: We’ve stopped loving our neighbors.
If we truly loved our neighbors – whom the Bible defines as anyone to whom we can do good – we would prepare our hearts and minds every day to be inconvenienced without complaint. We would add a readiness to be kind whenever and wherever and to whomever we can. If our hearts were not so self-centered, we would find our eyes opened to the much more satisfying virtues of sacrificial compassion and neighborly generosity.
But wait, there’s more. Those known for kindness, for being ready to help, comfort and encourage no matter the personal cost, are also almost always the most satisfied, joyful and contented people we know. Turns out those who sincerely and honestly dole out kindness and common courtesy gain more from their disposition and activity than those on the receiving end. Apparently, kindness has a personally beneficial residual effect on the giver, sort of a super powerful life supplement that increases the joy and satisfaction life can bring. And did I mention it’s free?
The reason exchanging an attitude of petulance and criticism for kindness and selfless love brings so much contentedness to life is simple. Each of us is here, still breathing, with a beating heart and all the other necessary life functions, and this is due to the kindness and ongoing love of Almighty God, who created us to represent him. Given this, we will be most satisfied when his ways, his truth, and his nature are most seen in and through us.
Our founding fathers understood this and realized our republic would only be as strong as were the righteous virtues of our people. But right now, we are watching Americans of every political stripe biting and devouring one another. We are fully engaged in a verbal civil war that far too few see as dangerous. But what makes for good television is horrible for neighborhoods.
When Jesus was asked, “What’s the greatest commandment?” he replied with a two-fer: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength … and your neighbor as yourself.” Almost 2,000 years later it remains the only hope for any nation, and that includes the one that claims, “in God we trust.”
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.